PC Gamer
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Valve co-founder Gabe Newell gave a fascinating insight into the pricing experiments Valve have been running with Steam at the WTIA TechNW panel in Seattle recently, revealing that Team Fortress 2's shift to free to play quintupled its player base.

During the course of the seven minute aside, covered on Geekwire, Newell also revealed that the conversion rate of the number of free players who go on to buy something is "20 to 30 percent" for Team Fortress 2, much higher than the 2-3% conversion rate seen by other free-to-play games.

Newell said that he thinks the announcement of Team Fortress 2 as a "free-to-play" game, and not just outright "free" was part of TF2's successful shift of payment model, perhaps underestimating the power of the raw, uncontrollable human drive to acquire and hoard sweet new hats.

"Why is free and free to play so different? Well then you have to start thinking about how value creation actually occurs, and what it is that people are valuing, and what the statement that something is free to play implies about the future value of the experience that they’re going to have," Newell said, suggesting that the implication that a free-to-play Team Fortress 2 would exist as a continuing service was a key motivation for new players.

It's likely that Valve's reputation for providing free updates and ongoing support was even more of a factor than the "free-to-play" label, but Newell admits that Valve are generally stumped by their observations. As an example, Newell commented on the remarkable but confusing success that Valve saw early on with Steam sales, saying "we do a 75 percent price reduction, our Counter-Strike experience tells us that our gross revenue would remain constant. Instead what we saw was our gross revenue increased by a factor of 40.

"Not 40 percent, but a factor of 40, Which is completely not predicted by our previous experience with silent price variation."

"We don’t understand what’s going on," he added. "All we know is we’re going to keep running these experiments to try and understand better what it is that our customers are telling us."

Team Fortress 2 players are currently gearing up for the incoming Halloween Update, which among other things, is sure to add new hats.

PC Gamer
Team Fortress 2 - night of the living update
The Team Fortress 2 Halloween Update is fast approaching, the first since it went free to play earlier this year. To prepare new players for the sheer terror of the annual TF2 event, Valve are recommending that players return to the Mann Manor map to battle last year's boss monster, the Horseless Headless Horseman. They also indicate that the TF2 modding community has started their own unofficial Halloween event, a week long Night of the Living Update.

The modders' update is set in a haunted house. A different room is revealed every night, revealing of some of the great item models we mentioned in our look at the Steam Workshop, including the brilliant Mad Science pack for the Engineer. They can be downloaded as reskins for existing weapons, and the Steam forums post announcing the event suggests that many of the items in this "fake" update might even see their way into the "real" one." Valve say that the "real one" is going to arrive sometime this week. But they won't say quite when, because it's Halloween, and they are masters of suspense.
PC Gamer
Team Fortress 2 - The Steam Workshop
Among the many additions made by the recent Manniversary update for Team Fortress 2, the Steam Workshop may well turn out to be the most important. The Workshop is a hub that lets community item creators show off their creations so that they can be rated by other players. The best ones rise to the top, where they can be cherry-picked by Valve for inclusion in the game.

If you haven't had chance to browse some of the community-made items vying for dominance, it's well worth doing so. We've picked out some of our favourite items, including an umbrella-gun for the Spy, a beserk rocket launcher for the Soldier, and a couple of wonderfully mad Engineer packs.

The Mobile Engineer Pack

The Mobile Sentry Gun is deservedly the very highest rated item on the Steam Workshop right now. The model for the Engineer's shoulder-mounted cannon is fantastic, but it also forms part of a larger pack that includes designs for a number of different shoulder cannons, and a bionic hat made up of infra-red vision equipment.

The Bird's Eye Bomber

The physics of the Bird's Eye Bomber don't make any real-world sense, but it's just the sort of mad contraption you could imagine the Soldier endorsing enthusiastically. The idea is that a secondary rocket can be fired downwards for easy rocket-jumping, and to bombard foes below as you fly overhead. Perfect for Soldiers obsessively seeking air superiority.

The Aristocratic Assassin Spy Umbrella

The best part of this inventive pack gives the Spy a gun hidden inside an umbrella. For some reason the vision of a Spy running around with an umbrella just works, and it gets even better when you discover that the Spy can open it up to break long falls. Watch this video of a Spy doing just that. It's like Mary Poppins. If Mary Poppins was French. And a trained killer.
The Frankenstein Curios Engineer Pack

Nothing suggests mad science more effectively than a brain in a jar. The Frankenstein Curios pack for the engineer contains a fantastic sentry gun powered by one such brain.

Items are submitted to the Steam Workshop without rules attached. When Valve adopt a new weapon, they decide how it will work in a way that hopefully won't unbalance the game. That leaves the doors wide open for speculation on this one. What attributes would you give to a sentry gun that has a brain? There's also a brain-powered shotgun and a Mr. Freeze style dome helm that makes the Engineer look genuinely quite menacing. See for yourself in this video of the pack in action.

Best accessories

These items should nicely fill the extra spare accessories slot that Valve added in the latest update. They wouldn't necessarily have any effect on the game, but who's pass up on a chance to carry around a pair of Spy voodoo dolls? There's a hilarious moustache for the Heavy. We're unsure whether it's supposed to turn him into Stalin or Freddie Mercury, but damn, what a 'tache.

Have you had a chance to browse the Steam Workshop? Got any favourite items of your own? Can you think of any good rule-sets for the items above? Let us know in the comments.
PC Gamer
Team Fortress 2 Manniversary Update
A monster update has hit Team Fortress 2 to celebrate the first birthday of the Mann-Co store, which started selling hats and weapons to players almost exactly one year ago. The Manniversary update adds new community-made items, Portal 2 style high five taunts, a new map called Gullywash, slow motion and shaky-cam for replays, customisable load-out presets for each class, the Steam Workshop community item hub and extra miscellaneous item slots that will let you live the Abe Lincoln dream and wear a hat AND a beard at the same time.

The typically hilarious Manniversary Update page mentions that community item makers have earned two million dollars in total so far from item sales in the Mann-Co Store. The Steam Workshop hopes to encourage people to make even MORE items. If you've made a hat, you can submit it to the workshop, and it'll be rated by players and Valve. The best items then stand a chance of making it into the full game. Then, profit! Team Fortress 2 is the only game listed in the Steam Workshop for now, but it looks as though the system is designed to support other games in future.

The new weapons and the taunt are now on sale in the Mann-Co store, and many items are on sale as part of the Manniversary festivities. You'll now also be able to try out each item for six days before buying. The weapon will land in your backpack, and look and act exactly like the fully purchased version, then after six days it'll make like Keyser Soze and drive a fast car outta town, unless you throw down cash, of course.

Log in to TF2 now and you'll receive a Manniversary crate with a free gift inside. If you're curious about making items for Team Fortress 2, check out Valve's guide to creating an item, and their recent blog post detailing the creation of the skull cap. TF2 went free to play earlier this year, and we think it's better than ever. Read our Team Fortress 2 review to find out why, and check out our look back over the last year of Mann-Co madness.
PC Gamer
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As reported on Gamasutra, a bunch of Valve's writers have been taking part in a roundtable question and answer session at GDC Online.

Read on for some insight from some of the most talented writers in the industry.

Valve might be famous for its use of silent protagonists but according to Mark Laidlaw, one of the writers at Valve, it can be a restrictive on a studio's creativity: "Now that some of Valve's most popular protagonists are silent, there’s no turning back. “At this point we’re fully committed to it and taking it as far as it possibly could go.”

Eric Wolpaw, another writer at Valve, also provided some insight. Referring to Valve's hugely successful free to play game, TF2, he said: “that whole game is us desperately trying to keep our jobs."

“Comedy stuff is tougher because it’s more subjective and it’s really hard to gauge peoples’ reaction," he said. Wolpaw added that sometimes it’s a bit depressing, when people playtest a part in a game that’s supposed to be funny, and there's little reaction. “Pretty much no one that played Portal 2 cracked a smile, but testers still said the game was funny... It’s hard to tell if a joke is failing or not.”

Laidlaw was equally humble when referring to his own work: “We fail all the time, we just don’t advertise it too much...we always want to feel like we’re on the edge and challenging ourselves and growing all the time.”

What's your favourite example of writing in games? Let us know in the comments.

PC Gamer

Let's be honest, Dungeon Defenders does not look like an iPhone port. We mean that in the nicest possible way. But the multiplayer tower defence game was originally on iPhone. And the PC conversion will let you play with iPhone users when it gets released next week. Weird eh?

Pre-order Dungeon Defenders and, as is tradition these days, you'll get a bunch of Valve goodies in-game including The Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device for the Huntress hero class and four Team Fortress 2 familiars. We're not familiar with how familiars work yet, but their roles sound very familiar...

The Heavy uses his Gatling gun to shoot at enemies from afar, The Engineer repairs groups of nearby towers while you’re on the offensive, the Medic heals nearby allies and the Pyro sets dudes on fire with a flamethrower.

Dungeon Defenders lets you defend your dungeon as one of four classes, which range from ranged sharp-shooters to magic users and close-up, bashy sorts. Killing invaders lets you level up and gather materials with which to forge more powerful weapons. You can show those off in four-player PvP and survival co-op modes to earn bonus experience XP and GLORY. It's out on October 19, and will cost £9.99 / $14.99. It's now available to pre-order on Steam at a 10% discount.

PC Gamer

Team Fortress 2 players, get ready to experience a combination of awe, jealousy and then more awe with Community Fortress collection of the top ten TF2 kills from tournaments around the world in August, as highlighted by the Team Fortress 2 blog. Predictably, many of them show sickeningly skilled Demomen juggling enemies with perfectly timed sticky explosions, but there are a few Heavy and Medic kills, and an unbelievable shot from a Soldier at number six, just under two minutes in. Spectacular stuff. Which one's your favourite?
PC Gamer

As writers, one of the ways we reassure ourselves about our career choice is by wearing fancy hats. Now, we finally have an in-game TF2 item to continue that tradition. If you buy Episode 1 of PC Gamer Digital from Steam, you'll receive The Killer Exclusive--a dashing tan fedora that declares outwardly to your opponents "I am (or am impersonating) a member of the media, and I deserve your respect!"

Click within for answers to probable Qs that you may have about our stylish TF2 tie-in.

About-to-be-asked questions:

The Killer Exclusive can be equipped to any of TF2's nine character classes.
The Killer Exclusive activates automatically in TF2. Buy Ep. 1, launch the game, and it should appear in your backpack.
If you already have Episode 1 of PC Gamer Digital, you should already have The Killer Exclusive.
Episode 1 can be gifted to others on Steam.
Steam considers Episode 1 as DLC for PC Gamer Digital, so you need to install that before you can view Episode 1.
PC Gamer Digital is currently only available in the US. Within weeks, PC Gamer Digital will be available globally through Steam. The promotion will still be active at that time.
If you have questions about PC Gamer Digital, we posted a big ol' FAQ about it here.

And as a reminder, our compatriots at PC Gamer in the UK are also offering the item through their version of the magazine.

We'll likely be holding an "exclusive" hat-wearer-only TF2 event on our server over the weekend so we can capture an image or video of us all romping around with the hat, killing each other in some kind of murderous press conference. Watch the PC Gamer Steam group for that.
PC Gamer
Team Fortress 2 Arcade
Team Fortress Arcade recreates Team Fortress 2 as an old-school scrolling arcade shooter. You play as one of the nine TF2 classes, rendered in adorable 2D sprite form. You can gang up with three friends and fight your way Eastwards to face off against each level boss, a member of the Red team. The first boss is the Red Scout. He chugs bonk and zooms around in zig zags. Hilarious and annoying, it captures the Scout perfectly.

It's made by Eric Ruth, who also created the fantastic de-make of Left 4 Dead, which can be downloaded for free on Fileplanet. Team Fortress Arcade is also free to download now on PikiGeek.
PC Gamer
Team Fortress 2 thumb
It's been a year since Valve announced the launch of the Team Fortress 2 Mann-conomy update, which let players pay money for in-game items like weapons, and of course, hats. Community modellers could submit new weapons, and pick up a share of the profits if their item made it into the game. It was a huge, game-changing update, and its success is likely one of the biggest reasons behind Valve's decision to make Team Fortress 2 free.

So one year on, how has the Mann-conomy changed Team Fortress 2? One thing's obvious. There are quite a lot of hats in TF2 these days. Team Fortress 2's transition into a hat wearing simulator with some added shooting is almost complete, and it's easy to forget now that hats were the most controversial and surprising part of the update. Controversial because of their hefty price tags. Surprising because of the enormous number of players happy to pay up for a smart piece of virtual headwear.

It's fair to say that the community's goodwill towards Valve was an important factor in the update's success. Valve have been adding major updates to the game for free since launch, and for those who get Team Fortress 2 as part of the Orange Box, it's turned into an exceptional deal. Players pouring dozens of hours a week into the game were happy to spend a lot of money to play with new items, and show support for a game they loved. This has allowed Valve to get away with more than you might expect. The addition of crates, which can only be unlocked with a bought key, still feels like a mean addition.

Still, the Mann-conomy has almost certainly been a huge success financially, not just for Valve, but for community members who design the new items that sell in the Mann-Co Store. The creators of the Polycount Pack made a fortune. The five community members scored paychecks between $39,000 and $47,000 after just two weeks of the items going on sale. The amounts were too large to be processed by Paypal, so Valve flew out some of the item creators to Valve HQ to pay them in person.

One story that recently appeared on Reddit tells the story of one community member who says he made $15 from sales of the Southern Hospitality when it was released with the Engineer update. Pleased to have his item featured in the game, he emailed Valve boss Gabe Newell to say thanks. Next month, he got a cheque for more than $5,000. Newell had apparently bought close to ten thousand wrenches.

The Mann-conomy has also been used for charitable purposes. A series of items went on sale earlier this year to raise money for the victims of the Japan earthquake. $430,543.65 went to the Japanese Red Cross as a result.

The Mann-conomy is here to stay, and it's growing beyond the borders of TF2. Steam trading now lets players swap hats for unredeemed Steam games. Third party publishers are starting to add their support. By the second year Manniversary, we could be trading TF2 hats for Deus Ex: Human Revolution DLC.

Now, Team Fortress 2 is free. Valve have used TF2 as a testing ground for a lot of new ideas, not least the addition of micro-transactions. The ongoing TF2 beta regularly tests mad new weapons. But unlike most mad experiments, TF2 has turned out surprisingly well. the explosion of new items cluttering up everyone's backpacks makes your average TF2 server a confusing, bizarre but hilarious place to spend some time. We re-reviewed it when it went free to play a few months ago. It's better than ever. We can't wait to see what Valve do with TF2 next.

Need more TF2 hats? Claim your free Killer Exclusive cap in the latest issue of PC Gamer UK.